Autism champion Richie Smith hopes to inspire others by taking South Shields Customs House audience on a journey through his mental health problems
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Richie will take the audience on a journey through his life, which began “just a stones throw from the Customs House” where he was taken away from his mother due, and at the age of two placed into care and put up for adoption.
Richie believes being separated from his birth mother was the trigger for his detachment disorder – a feeling of disconnect with the world – and is one of the reasons he carries a dummy and his teddy bear Gracie, as he seeks comfort in childhood items.
After “failing to connect” with his adoptive family and struggling to understand his autism, which wasn’t diagnosed until he was 34, Richie had a troubled childhood.
He said: “I would lock myself in my room and carried out strange behaviours like smelling things. I felt like a freak and weirdo and didn’t understand why I was behaving different to other children. It led to me self-harming and I felt completely alone in the world.
"I left home at 18 and that’s when everything just collapsed in. I was suffering from anxiety and depression and on psychiatric medication, and at the age of 22 I tried to take my own life.”
Richie will perform his show from a bedroom set which will resemble that of his childhood, and will take the audience on an emotional roller-coaster through 10 key events in his life and the mental turmoil it inflicted.
Entitled ‘A Million Blankets” to represent “the mask and disguise” he put on to hide his autism, one of the catalysts behind the show was the recent discovery of material documenting his troubled early childhood, along with his desire to return to the town where his turbulent life began.
Richie said: “I was removed from my birth mother just a few streets from where the Customs House is, which is why I wanted to bring my show to South Shields. Hopefully going out on stage and being open about what I’ve been through will be the removal of the final blanket.”
Richie credits finally being diagnosed with autism as a defining moment which helped to bring an understanding to how he mentally processes things, and after establishing the charity Awsometistic and carrying out support work in local schools, is now in a “much better place”.
He hopes opening up about his own mental health journey will help inspire others.
Richie said: “The show is under the umbrella of autism, but is all about mental health. After everything I’ve been through I feel like I shouldn’t still be here, but I am and hopefully my story will show no matter how hard life gets you can get through it.
"It’s important people understand that it’s okay to be different and it’s my mission to ensure no child feels like I did.”
Richie’s show is on Friday March 17 at 7.30pm. Tickets are available on the Customs House website.